Serial litigant John Jay Hooker filed a lawsuit recently challenging the planned appointment of three candidates to succeed three appeals court judges who will retire August 31, 2014. Hooker claims that their planned appointment robs voters of the chance to elect the judges in the election on August 7, 2014.
According to the Knoxville News Sentinel, Hooker argues that the “state Constitution requires that there be an election… They are unconstitutionally calling off an election.”
Hooker has filed lawsuits previously challenging the constitutionality of Tennessee’s judicial selection method (see Gavel Grab).
Given the language of the Tennessee Constitution and statutes governing the Judicial Nominating Commission, Hooker’s lawsuit seems to have slim chances of succeeding. Read more
President Barack Obama has pulled ahead of his predecessor and nominated more women to the federal bench than any other president, reports the Blog of Legal Times.
According to a study by the Alliance for Justice, 42 percent of Obama’s nominees that have been confirmed to the bench are women. The corresponding nomination rates by former Presidents George W. Bush and President Bill Clinton were 22 percent and 29 percent respectively.
“This administration deserves credit for working to create a federal judiciary that more closely reflects the richness and diversity of the American people,” said AFJ President Nan Aron.
Members of groups such as AFJ that focus on judicial vacancies met with administration officials last week to discuss the need to fill more vacancies on federal benches across the country, the article says. Read more
Debate concerning North Carolina’s embattled public finance program for judicial elections has fueled an opinion battle between local leaders with opposing viewpoints.
Gov. Pat McCrory and both chambers of the General Assembly have proposed budget legislation that includes eliminating public financing, says an Asheville Citizen-Times editorial. Even though the system is supported by a majority of voters, both Democrats and Republicans, the program seems “doomed,” it notes.
In a Daily Reflector op-ed, executive director of the N.C. Center for Voter Education Brent Laurenz declares that the system frees judicial candidates from having to seek money from attorneys or special interest groups. The N.C. Center for Voter Education is a Justice at Stake partner organization. Read more
North Carolina’s public finance program for judicial elections is nationally recognized, and it has support from former state governors, state appeals court judges, business leaders and a majority of voters on both sides of the political aisle.
Considering the strong backing of the program, asks a Rocky Mount Telegram editorial, why then is the North Carolina General Assembly persistently seeking to end it?
Critics of public financing argue that it wastes taxpayer money, but the funds come from an optional fee on a tax form, the opinion says. Without public funding for judicial races, candidates are left to seek campaign money from individuals who may appear before them in court.
Legislators should leave a successful program alone in order to maintain the independence of the judiciary, the editorial argues.
According to Gavel to Gavel, the North Carolina House released a budget proposal last night with language for repealing public financing. The state Senate also proposed eliminating the program earlier this year (see Gavel Grab).
Calls to uphold North Carolina’s public financing program for judicial elections are growing louder, and every member of the state Court of Appeals but one has come out in support of it, according to a Fayetteville Observer editorial.
Last week, the appellate judges sent a letter to Senate leader Phil Berger, urging the Legislature to maintain the current funding system for appellate judicial races (see Gavel Grab). Critics of the program are targeting it for elimination.
In these other dispatches about fair and impartial courts:
- Mississippi’s drug courts stand to lose between 25 and 58 percent of their funding by July 1, and some will lose all funding entirely. According to the Clarion Ledger, the State Drug Court Advisory Committee voted 7-3 Friday to implement the budget cuts.
- In a review of the 2013 Kansas Legislative session, the Topeka Capital-Journal says that Gov. Sam Brownback spent considerable time on limiting the influence the Kansas Bar Association has on the state’s judicial nominating commission. Brown advocated for direct election of appellate judges, or switching to a federal style system of nominations.
- Without cameras in the courtroom to broadcast trial proceedings, victims’ families like those in Boston’s James “Whitey” Bulger case will never get to see him brought to justice. CBS Boston says that the ban on cameras in federal courtrooms dates back to a time before these court proceedings would have been available on TV or the Internet.
- The Kentucky Courier-Journal reports that many Jefferson County Circuit Court judges improved their ratings in a poll conducted by the Louisville Bar Association this year. While most judges received favorable ratings in the poll, Circuit Court Judge Olu Stevens dropped from 81 percent satisfaction two years ago to 69 percent.
Nonprofit groups that spend hidden money on elections in New York will now be required to disclose how much they raise and spend and the identity of their donors, reports the Associated Press.
State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman (photo) is aiming to force groups to be transparent and reveal “dark money” spent in elections.
“When people spend money to try to influence our elections, the public needs to know where that money is coming from, and how it is being spent,” Schneiderman said. “Simply put, transparency reduces the likelihood of corruption.”
Schneiderman’s campaign directive came into effect Wednesday, ensuring that nonprofit groups and “social welfare” organizations report their campaign activities if they spent $10,000 or more in a New York race.
The article says this encompasses expenses for TV, radio, Internet and print advertising. Money spent on forums and “town hall” meetings will not have to be disclosed. Once this information is posted to the Attorney General’s Office website, the public will be able to track campaign expenditures, the article notes.
In a letter to North Carolina Senate leader Phil Berger, 14 of the state’s 15 Court of Appeals judges urged the Legislature to maintain the current public finance system for appellate judicial elections.
The News & Observer reports only Court of Appeals Judge Sanford Steelman declined to sign the letter.
Earlier this year, senators approved a budget that would eliminate North Carolina’s public finance program for judicial races (see Gavel Grab).
In their letter, the judges argued that the program insulates judicial candidates from political influence, and maintains the judiciary’s independence.
Indiana Lake County Criminal Court Judge Thomas Stefaniak, who was previously put on the court through a merit selection process, will take a place on the Lake County Juvenile Court.
The Juvenile Court has been the subject of controversy for months after Lake County Superior Court Judge Nicholas Schiralli planned to take the vacancy on it, even though he was elected to his position rather than chosen through merit selection (see Gavel Grab). Since then, a change in the law has required that all Lake County Superior Court judges be chosen through merit selection.
Not all of Indiana’s judges are required to undergo the merit selection process, but they all should, argues a Northwest Indiana editorial. Under the selection system for the state Supreme Court, a judicial nominating commission interviews candidates and recommends three individuals to the governor.
Merit selection ensures that the right candidate is selected for a particular court vacancy, it argues, and prevents judges from having to align with a political party or ask for campaign donations.
It’s important for Lake County to consider clarifying the law on judicial selection, and it’s also important to require that all of Indiana’s judges to be selected through a merit system. This would ensure that the right person is selected for each state court, the editorial declares.
Wisconsin’s budget-writing committee has voted to increase state court funding by $5.2 million, but the courts still would face an $11.8 million cut in the budget draft, reports the Capital Times.
Court officials have expressed concern that the reduced budget would cause delays to the court system’s work.
“I hope the full Legislature will appreciate the detrimental effects the committee’s action will have on people and businesses that rely on courts in local communities throughout the state,” said Wisconsin Supreme Court Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson (photo) in a press release.
Gov. Scott Walker’s initial budget proposal this year included a $17 million cut to the courts, but Abrahamson appealed to the Joint Finance Committee to restore funds, the article says.
When Abrahamson spoke before the committee, she argued that the court system operates on a slim margin. “There’s very little flexibility, very little wiggle room in the court’s budget,” she said.
She criticized the budget cuts as an “anti-revenue measure” that would limit the ability of clerks to collect court fees. Abrahamson said she is also concerned that a lack in funds would reduce the court’s capacity to provide legal representation to the poor.